Since leaving Uni I’ve found it really difficult – despite all of my best intentions – to keep learning as an adult.
Uni helped me 1. learn new things, 2. learn how to learn new things and 3. unlearn stupid things. This is much harder to do without accountably and structure.
Seven years later however, and I’m going through something of a personal learning renaissance! This has been like wearing tumble dried socks after walking in sandals through the rain: Heaven.
Here are three really simple things that I’ve been doing that have been helping me to learn new things, exercise how to think and learn how to break bad thinking habits. Maybe you could try them too?
1. Watch TED constantly.
TED brings the best communicators and thinkers from around the world and gives them a very short amount of time to blow away their audiences. The talks have to be properly researched, thoroughly thought-through and creatively presented. Easy, digestible and discussable mental stimulation.
2. Learn to speed read …. properly.
I had to speed read a lot in Uni because our reading lists were simply terrifying! This was usually skimming through for key words and quotes while quickly digesting conclusions. However, by utilising peripheral vision theory of word groups and following lines properly I’ve sped up my reading time about 40% – reading EVERY word! This means I can read more intently, widely and quickly.
3. Write as a job.
I’m now a part-time freelance writer for startups and charities. I have to research an incredible breadth of topics so that I can write in the required voices and sound like an authority in any given topic. I have to sound like the client who obviously does know their trade and market. Just this past month I’ve written for a world class robotics firm, a martial arts academy, a private tuition agency and a start up exterior plastering trade. Writing with the pressure of a client means you have to research, think and communicate on several different levels.
The smartest people that I’ve ever met are incredibly convicted but not at all black-or-white. I think the more of complexity you understand the more scope you will give to variables. Thinking is a gift; one that I take very seriously…. some of the time. It’s well worth getting gritty with our brains and learning how to think critically, communicate clearly and understand compassionately. These three C’s will eventually save civilisation. I hope.
At some point during the 18th century we decided that mentally ill people were ‘mad.’ And by mad we meant a danger to themselves and a danger to others. So we humanised and sanitised their living arrangements. Thus began the stories of Bedlam, institutions, electroshock therapy, padded walls and strappy jackets.
This was the humane way in which we treated the mentally ill that demonstrated the ‘progressive’ nature of modern medicine.
However earlier than this and specifically during the Renaissance, the mentally ill were seen as simply different or irregular. Allowed to live freely in society and possessing qualities and wisdoms that helped to keep our perception of the world accountable.
Michel Foucault was particularly interested in this and what he saw as the degrading of humanity through modern medicine. Foucault pointed out just how much more tolerant we were as a society before we started sectioning people.
I don’t believe in many black and whites, and of course our understanding of biology and medicine has come a long way in potentially helping those with mental health difficulties. However, the pitiful and disgraceful amount of money in the NHS budget allocated to treat mentally ill patients tells us that we simply cannot employ this philosophy any longer.
We have to take a step forward – as has been said many times publicly this last year – in treating mental illness properly, but in doing so we cannot take two steps back by further dehumanising and segregating mentally ill people.
Our philosophy should always start with people as people. Incorporation, tolerance, understanding and integration. Surely in the majority of cases, the best treatment grows from a holistic view of society, recognising that a properly functioning group begins with the sum of all its peoples.
We can all do with some perception challenging in this area, because in the spectrum of mental-health maybe were all a little nuts.
One of the hot n’ tasty – albeit pseudo-informed – statements of this year is, ‘if you didn’t vote then you have no right to complain.’
It is getting increasingly difficult and increasingly stupid to make this argument with any real sense of conviction.
This year the voters were juggling less discernible differences between to the two major parties, dwindling credibility of the Liberal Democrats and swelling inflammation of the UK Independence Party. This year the media giants were out for blood with an unmatched and intense bias. This year pitted the candidates against each other in an awkwardly broadened yet puddle-deep televised debate. And this year saw Russell Brand throwing his hat into the ring!
Turnout at the 2015 General Election was the highest in nearly two decades with 66.1% of eligible people voting. This means that more people voted with less credible information than perhaps ever before.
The First Past The Post system gave the Conservatives 330 seats – a parliamentary majority – with only 37% of the vote, and only 24% of the eligible vote.
It’s easy to see why people don’t consider voting as an effective option.
It’s even easier to demonise non-voters as something less than British, or something less than human.
I’m not being melodramatic. When we deny people the right to be disillusioned, confused, appalled and upset – or when we deny them the right to complain about the decisions being made over and without them, we deny them the basic human rights of free expression and free speech.
We also fracture the foundation stones of democracy.
Part of living in a Democracy is the protection and representation of even those who disrespect the system. The beautiful downside to any Democracy is the freedom it provides to even those who would seek to undermine it.
At it’s extreme, a true Democracy goes out of its way to protect even those citizens who actively seek to destroy it. This is the wake of a Democracy, the price we pay for representation and the only real way to ensure the freedom of its people.
It’s not enough just to say, ‘you didn’t vote so all your rights, privileges and complaints are immediately invalid.’ Using that logic Children have no right to complain either, nor does my wife who is a tax paying, settled foreign national.
First Past The Post may have worked when we we’re a two party country, however the nightmare of this system now is the feeling of powerlessness it leaves for many who have a genuine reason to believe that their vote simply wouldn’t count.
Those of us who did vote, however have a nasty – and dare I say ‘slightly’ fascist – idea that because other people didn’t vote, their privileges and even their human rights to free speech and free expression are somehow to be regarded as less than ours.
This country is not split into voters and non-voters.
We the people are not ‘we who turned up’ and the future of our prosperity, health services and education is not reserved for only those special few who share our ideology about voting or our ability to vote.
In a Democracy we believe in the vocalisation of minority opinions. We believe that all sides should have a right to be heard. We believe that everybody has a right to their opinion – right? But somehow there is one glaring exception: everyone has a right to their opinion only as long as they actually vote. They have no right to any different opinion on voting – and all their opinions are devalued if they don’t.
There is a silent argument about those who won’t/can’t vote still being part of the country, protected by it’s laws with a right to be discontent. ‘You didn’t vote so you can shut the hell up and lump it for the next five years’ is simply a dramatic misunderstanding the system we live in – and the one that we vote in.
We need to get our game faces on and encourage voting – but this will not happen by degrading, devaluing and further disillusioning those who didn’t. The country is not split into voters and non-voters. We should move past these lazy, elitist arguments and start coming together to raise the bar, give hope for the future and actually fix the problem!
Our modern. 21st-century view of dating can be summed up in five words: “snag the best you can.”
This clearly has more to do with you than the one you want to go out with. You, sir or madam, are a certain build, a certain character, a certain group of personalities, a certain hairline, a certain waistline and a certain punchline. Put all those characteristics into the magical food processor of life and out pops a concoction with a very specific formula that only certain suitors will drink.
Effectively, this ranks potential partners into a devastating hierarchical pyramid. The PHD supermodel at the top, and the receding, skinny ginger (myself) at the bottom buried under a foot of peat. You learn very quickly how high on that pyramid to aim – and then you stick there. Anyone above your level is ‘out of your league’ therefore ‘out of bounds’ and ‘not worth the effort.’
This is the exact opposite of the eminent, classical philosopher Plato. One of Plato’s key theories was that you should always allow your lover to change you.
The way this works out in practice is that rather than looking for someone just like you or at your level or in your league, you instead look for someone who possesses characteristics that you want but do not have. You aim for the stars!
Your lover should be more than you. By virtue of being with you, they will help you develop those characteristics that you want. They should simply help you become more than you already are; a better person. You should always reach beyond your ‘league.’
I met my wife at Uni. She was four years older than me, a poet, and an incredibly smart philosophy student with some history in modelling. She was totally beyond my reach. Yet by the grace of God we ended up together, despite my best efforts to trash it.
After we’d known each other for a month she asked me directly, ‘Are you interested in me?’ And I – subscribing of course to the ‘not in my league’ formula – lied through my buckteeth. ‘No, no, no! Of course not. We’re just friends!’ Little did I know how much that was to break her heart, and how close we came to utter disaster. Salvaged only by her tenacity and my ineptitude. Eight years later, I still wake up dumbfounded.
So aim above, don’t aim below. Don’t settle for ‘the trick is to go for the 2nd prettiest.’ Don’t believe all the nonsense that the media feeds you about what you deserve and what makes people compatible. Reach for the stars and do not settle.
This will take more time and more self-improvement and more confidence on your part. This will take more waiting and more self-control and self-restraint. Yet this is the only way to a happy partnership that really grows you as a couple and develops you as an individual.
Thank you Plato, you dog.
Podcast Episode 4.
Interview with Pastor Steve Houghton of i61 Church, North Wales about the fundraising, community venture: The £10 Challenge.
Culture and the Bible. These are the two indisputable pillars of effective youthwork. If you don’t get the former you can’t communicate the latter, if you can’t apply the latter you will make no difference to the former.
“There are two fundamental necessities in Christian Communication. One is that we take the world we live in seriously; and the other is that we take God’s revelation to us in the Bible seriously. If either is missing, the communication will be ineffective.” [Christian Youth Work, Mark Ashton & Phil Moon]
There is a youthwork culture in the UK that is really starting to push the envelop, dig deep and get innovative in cultural relevancy. This is absolutely fantastic! I fully embrace and stand by this.
I fear, however, that the Bible is taking more and more of a back seat.
The Famine of God’s Word in Youthwork Culture
I’ve been to almost every major, mainstream Christian youthwork gathering in the UK this year. These were amazing events with great people, and mostly solid, encouraging teaching. Most of all they were a showcase of good ideas to learn from! However they were also symptomatic of a serious famine of the Word of God.
I can count on one hand how many talks I’ve heard at Youthwork gatherings this year that genuinely opened up the Bible.
“Opening up the Bible means swimming around in its depths and drawing us into those hidden truths.”
This spills over to published materials too. Bible reading resources are driving further down the lane of ‘prooftext with reflection’ often without any discernible link between the passage and the attached thoughts.
If we don’t open up the Bible we lose perspective, focus, authority and foundations. What are we playing at?
We Don’t Know How To Open Up The Bible
Let me clarify what I mean by ‘opening up’ the Bible. Just reading a standalone verse and paraphrasing it a few different, interesting ways is not opening up the Bible. Reading a verse, picking a word from it and giving a talk on that word is also not opening up the Bible.
Opening up the Bible means swimming around in its depths and drawing us into those hidden truths. It means exegesis, context, study and clarity. It means bringing a passage to life by using the passage itself!
I’m becoming increasingly concerned that we don’t know how to do this.
My wife, an editor, is currently trying to re-write someones Bible Study that is trying to teach that David defeated Goliath because of his own prodigious experience and skill; not because he trusted in God despite his lack of experience and skill. How could we get a passage so dramatically wrong?
The Bible Makes Our Hearts Burn Within Us
How did Jesus reveal himself to the two followers walking to Emmaus? “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” v.27.
And how did they respond? They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” v.32.
“If you want young people’s hearts to burn within them in response to meeting with Jesus Christ, then you must, must, flippin’ must open up the Bible to them!”
If you want young people’s hearts to burn within them in response to meeting with Jesus Christ, then you must, must, flippin’ must open up the Bible to them! Yes, please be culturally relevant, but if you’re not going to bring God’s Word with you, you’re better off just staying at home!
If you want to communicate God’s heart, use His own words! There’s nothing wrong with the material – we must teach it until it burns within the hearts of this generation.
“However, if we have to err on one side or the other, we must not lose our hold on Christian truth. The simple message of God’s love for sinful humanity and of his forgiveness of our sins for the sake of his son has extraordinary and immense power: our incompetence as communicators is not able to destroy its ability to reach non-Christian young people.” [Christian Youthwork, Ashton & Moon]
Great Resource to Start Doing This…
I understand that most of the people who you hang out with on any given day are young people. I understand that it’s important to be relevant and accessible. But please be an adult and don’t take your fashion cues from youth culture.
Far be it from me to be the fashion police (I look like my Granddad!) but clothing does speak volumes about culture, and how you dress sends clear signals.
“When you wear skin-tights, low-cuts, short-shorts, slips-with-slits and see-thrus, you’re setting the standard.”
I’ve been at a bunch of youth work conferences this year and I have been continually shocked by some of the things that male and female youth leaders are wearing – and the apparent obliviousness that led them there.
When you wear skin-tights, low-cuts, short-shorts, slips-with-slits and see-thrus, you’re setting the standard and communicating availability. This goes for lads and lasses.
One of my first youth leaders was a 21 year old girl on a gap year. She rocked up one day with a skin tight shirt with a picture of two watermelons and the tagline, ‘hands off my melons.’ I remember her being pretty put out when the Youth Pastor told her that wasn’t appropriate. As a 14 year old though, I was on her side; I remember the ‘shirt’ vividly.
A couple of months back we hired a mission group and one of the lads in the troop wore skinny jeans about a mile below the waistline and a v-neck pajama top that was so low you could almost see belly button. You didn’t know where to look! He was oblivious to every girl in the room that was making eyes at him.
I don’t want to go an a Victorian dress rampage. It’s important to take pride in how you look and enjoy creatively looking your best. Go for it – enjoy it.
Please remember though that you set the standards for what’s appropriate and modest.
If you are older, in a leadership position and confident then you have immediate attraction value to a young person. Wrap that in revealing clothes and you’re just begging for trouble.
Be a grown up. Dress like one!
Here endeth another rant.
“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (Jesus, John 10:10). Youthwork pioneer Mark Yaconelli famously said that youthorkers “are passing on the way to stay alive.”
In the midst of the crazed, gut-wrenching frenzy of youthwork there is a constant, sometimes subversive and sometimes outright battle between the thief and the life bringer. A battle between darkness and light, between death and life. There’s nothing less than life at stake in what we do.
It’s appropriate then that this morning we heard stories from people on the frontline. Youthwork Conference’s opening session today, ‘Youth Work Works’ brought us compassion-driven youth projects from all over the UK. They were, without exception, incredible examples of youthwork passing on the way to stay alive. Check out the live blog for the session here.
I’m particularly encouraged by two values that came up in one way or another in just about every presentation. These make for two great challenges for us to talk about with our teams back home.
1. Meet genuine needs with what God has given you. See what the young people in your area are struggling with, and by working with the resources that God has provided reach to address those specific needs.
The youth work works speakers demonstrated that we don’t need any more flat-packed, cookie cutter youth projects. Instead we need a step out in faith to do something new and innovative and to take risks for the Kingdom where we live.
2. Give more responsibility to young people. Billy Graham fervently believed that the best way to bring a young person to Jesus is through another young person. It’s amazing therefore, to see youth workers inviting young people into the planning, problem solving and practice behind youth projects.
It’s 9:08 in Devonshire 1, and the room is slowly filling up to experience the first seminar of Youthwork, the Conference 2014. The air conditioning is whirring, the awkward ‘chair-next-door conversations’ have started, and the title, Today’s Discipleship, Tomorrow’s Disciples is stirring interest.
Our speakers, Nathan Iles and Phil Knox, are here holding the torch for British Youth For Christ, so we’re expecting this to be fuelled by a drive and passion to ‘take the good news of Jesus Christ relevantly to every young person in the UK.’
(This is live, sorry about any mistakes!)
An opening question “how good was your breakfast?” with a hearty response breaks the ice and kicks us into gear. This is a fast paced, high energy presentation with masses of important information and deeply applicable challenges – so buckle up!
Ten Unique Challenges of The Millennial Generation
Sociologists have been saying that ‘there’s something different about this generation’, something that creates new categories, reaches for new terms and raises new questions for how we do youthwork today. They go by many names: the millennials, the paradoxical generation, the dot-coms, the emerging adults, the 18s-20s – and they come with unique wordviews which require us to tailor our approach to youthwork accordingly.
So what is unique about this generation and what are some of the ways that we can speak truth to them?
1. They are digital pioneers.
They don’t just go online, they are online. Over half will check their social media as soon as they wake up. They live in the moment and that moment is on the smartphone, the tablet and the laptop.
Paradoxically this hyper-connectivity with a whole net of other digital users also creates a sense of isolation, and often a polarisation between the persona in reality and the persona online.
There needs to be a definite level of incarnational involvement in that world. We need to be God incarnate online, and help our young people be responsible digital pioneers and good citizens of the online world.
2. They are anti-institutional
Once upon a time we trusted politicians, we trusted organisation and we trusted institution. Those days are rapidly wearing thin. There is a pandemic lack of desire to belong to, or be a card-carrying member of any kind of institution.
However, this does not mean that this generation is not deeply spiritual. They are! There is a rejection of organised religion but a widespread searching for a deeper sense of reality.
We need to tackle nominal church going. Phil reminded us that ‘small is beautiful’ and that we need to see a de-emphasis on the Sunday morning service and a greater emphasis on the small group. We further need to give young people a bigger image of what church can be, moving away from consumerist models. “We need a society to contribute to rather than a church to consume.”
3. They are instant consumerists
The motto of this generation is tesco ergo sum, I shop therefore I am. This is the first generation to identify as consumerists, and specifically instant consumerists. We can go from hearing a song on TV to downloading and owning it within thirty seconds. There used to be a day where we browsed video rental shops – now we feel hard done by if we can’t stream a video within seconds.
We can address this by speaking out on generosity and speaking out against consumerism and the desire craze. What kinaesthetic experiences can we give to our young people (like visiting homeless kitchens) to teach them about generosity?
4. They are influenced more by friends than romance or family
Peers have replaced parents. Friends have become the most dependable unit. Even in popular culture, TV shows have moved away from the family unit (The Simpsons) to the friendship circles (Big Bang Theory).
The church, however, can uniquely give people a broader vision of family through all-age community. When young people were asked in a recent study, ‘what do you look for in a youth leader?’ 85% responded with a parent or grandparent figure.
Nathan gave us a great example of a program called ‘sponsor a young person.’ The deal is the young person has to say hello to an older person, and the older person has to commit to pray for that young person and give £1 a month to support them to go on a residential. Brilliant!
5. They have paradox between need for community and increasing isolation
There is a deep desire for individualism and a parallel longing for community. They are the ‘have it your way’ generation but they also have a deep need to be part of something bigger than themselves.
In youth ministry we need to hold these tensions and speak into these paradoxes. We need to speak into individual decision and church community This should be easy for the church! Faith is rooted in individual decision, in light of a whole community.
6. They are a post-christendom generation
Religion is no longer at the centre of public life. Jesus is a swear word and Noah is a myth. In 1985 520,000 18-30s were going to church; in the 20 years since that has more than halved. This generation no longer has the context, the background or the language to engage directly with Christian culture.
Sunday school for many in this generation is a thing of the past. People don’t know the Bible stories now. We need to translate the language and use words that young people understand. We also need to look at a different paradigm for the communication of Gospel, using stories works more often now than using something like the 4 points Gospel. Not least because the lack of prior understanding also means that the stories also now have a real freshness.
7. They are spending more time in adolescence
The average age of Adolescence is extending and now sits somewhere between the ages of 10-27. They are also sometimes called the ‘Peter Pan’ generation because ‘they never grow up.’
There are ways, like being sexually active, where they are growing up faster, however transitioning into full adulthood is getting harder and taking longer.
As church and youthworkers we need to intentionally celebrate the translations into adulthood by intentionally addressing transition issues and by supporting parents more. One of the things Youth For Christ has done is changed the age spectrum in its constitution from 11-18 to 7-25. We should consider running our youth groups older.
8. They have a ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deist’ worldview
The way that emerging adults view God is like Santa Claus or like a cosmic butler. He helps us be happy by bringing us good things and encouraging people to be nice and fair. The ultimate purpose of life is hedonistic – that is to be happy. (Ideal moment to kick in with Pharall Williams.)
Bottom line here: We need to get uncomfortable. Comfort is the enemy of growth. We should as youth workers give our young people a sense of adventure and of mission. It’s not enough to entertain young people and show them a good time. We need to dare young people to do incredible things in their world for Jesus Christ.
9. They are anti-commitment
The average American has 7 jobs in their 20s and one of the most downloaded apps in the UK today is ‘try before you buy dating’ which allows you to hook up with no strings attached. This bleeds into our profession too: the average time a UK church leader spends at a church is 7-10 years, however the average time a youth leader spends at a church is 18 months.
What does commitment to Jesus look like to an anti-commitment generation? We must help young people to chose day in day out for Jesus Christ. The challenge is enabling teenagers to dream again. Helping them think big, aim high and work hard to get there. All the while we must constantly remind ourselves that generationally, things do shift. Things can change.
10. They have a happy midi-narrative – worldview
Happiness is the central goal of life. Period. This isn’t necessarily new, however what might be is how that is achieved. You don’t pursue happiness through metanarrative (the big picture of life), but on a much more modest scale that you can control in your microcosm of your own contacted life. An interesting picture this is our Facebook profiles. A small reality that we can control and protect.
We need to tell the big story though. We need to tell the whole story of God, creation, life, Jesus Christ. We must tell the metanarrate and challenge the microcosms. One of the best ways we can do this is to invite them into it. They too are part of this great story!
Interesting linksHere are some interesting links for you! Enjoy your stay :)
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